Rules for Comma Usage, or Why Reading Out Loud Is the Best

When I began this blog, I decided it was not going to be about grammar.  While I’m actually a big dork who loves grammar and teaching grammar - it’s like a big puzzle that you get to solve over and over! - it’s not that exciting to write about the difference between a gerund and … Continue reading Rules for Comma Usage, or Why Reading Out Loud Is the Best

Paper Prompt: Noticing

It’s a new dawn and a new day for the 2019 - 2020 school year!  I have new groups of students and new classes to teach, and for those lucky enough to be enrolled in my literature seminars, that means new papers to write, coming up fast. I always begin literature seminars by assigning short … Continue reading Paper Prompt: Noticing

How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Back in the 90s, Denis Dutton, editor of the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature, held a yearly “contest” for bad writing, intended to bring attention to “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years.”  Anyone who has spent time in even the middle echelons of higher … Continue reading How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

...okay, not quite the only things.  Nouns matter too.  We’ll give them their due later.  But verbs are the most important things. My favorite book to teach, second to none, is Paradise Lost - not just because John Milton (praised be his name) used the English language to create one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful … Continue reading Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

Pictured: what you want your students to do. Metaphorically. (image credit: seton.co.uk) If you have not yet made acquaintance with Star War the Third Gather: Backstroke of the West, am I ever about to enrich your life. Here’s what happened: in 2005, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith landed in movie theaters, and … Continue reading Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

There Are Simply Too Many Words

Just cut a few, and it’ll be perfect! If you’ve seen the brilliant Milos Forman film Amadeus, Very Loosely Based on the life of Mozart, you probably remember this exchange between Mozart and Emperor Franz Josef, right after the premiere of Mozart’s operetta Escape from the Seraglio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6_eqxh-Qok In this conversation, of course, Mozart is … Continue reading There Are Simply Too Many Words

The Thing *Is* the Idea, Or: Dogs in the Writing Classroom

Picture, if you will, a dog. No particular kind of dog.  Just the first dog that pops into your head.  I’ll wait. Got a dog in mind?  Good. Which of these specimens would you say is most like the dog you have pictured? When I give my students this exercise, I ask a few volunteers … Continue reading The Thing *Is* the Idea, Or: Dogs in the Writing Classroom

Why Composition Classes Should Be Discussion-Based

The gospel of discussion-based teaching is nothing new and nothing particularly revolutionary.  You can find plenty of arguments for its virtues all over the Internet.  Discussion-based teaching is so hip that last year, my Esteemed Place of Employment brought in consultants for a full two-day workshop on the Harkness method.  So what can I tell … Continue reading Why Composition Classes Should Be Discussion-Based

Writing Exercise: The Bucket

Helps With: Imagery, concrete nouns, active verbs, symbolism. Great readers and writers must be great observers, and great observers hone their observational craft on people, places, and objects.  In other words, they’re always looking at things (which in this case includes people), and watching what those things do. That’s what most writing is about: things … Continue reading Writing Exercise: The Bucket

Our First Foray: ‘Tis New to Thee

I spent a while thinking about what might be a good topic for a first real post.  How about: the first thing that occurred to me to write about?  Good a starting point as any. Today’s topic is: when do you know a student has brought you an excellent paper topic? In Act V of … Continue reading Our First Foray: ‘Tis New to Thee